Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Commenting Engine: Disqus

After experiencing a steady stream of small but annoying commenting glitches in the last week or so, I finally snapped and removed the Intense Debate commenting engine.  Since I googled a few blog entries comparing the two engines while doing my due diligence in both the original install and the eventual uninstall, I figured I'd contribute something back to the body of knowledge.

My goal in using a commenting plug-in was to allow threaded discussions (i.e., replies that show up under their original post) and user notifications of new comments.  I like the idea of a blog being a springboard for discussion, and these two features more than any other seem to facilitate that.  I needed something that would work without requiring much attention.  I consider myself relatively tech-savvy; clearly I'm not an HTML genius, but I bring this up by way of saying that I don't think I was making any stupid mistakes here.

Things I Liked About Intense Debate:
  • Their user interface is easy to use and looks sleek
  • Roxy uses it at Effortless Anthropologie, so a good portion of my readers are already familiar with it and/or have accounts.
  • Installation was a total snap; their instructions are very clear, and they set up the how-to to open your blogger settings in a frame within the page, so you can read the instructions and change your settings at once.  It's great.
  • Email notifications as both a commenter and a moderator are great, and I liked being able to reply to comments from my email.
  • The support staff was generally quite helpful and responsive, even though I'm sure I was snarky or annoying in my moments of frustration.

Things I Didn't Like About Intense Debate:
(note: all of these points will boil down to one major problem, which is that the system is glitchy as hell.)
  • If I fiddled with some seemingly unrelated setting on my blogger account, suddenly my comment links would disappear.  The comments would still be there, but there was no link on the home page showing the number of comments (or providing a link from which to leave a comment).  Confusing and uncool, especially when it happens several times a week.  I basically lived in fear (overstatement) of touching any of my blogger settings or adding any new widgets.
  • Sometimes the comment links would disappear for no apparent reason, through no action of my own.
  • Tech support's solution to every problem --- EVERY problem --- is to "uninstall as a widget and reinstall as a template."  Unless you are currently using Intense Debate as a template, in which case they want you to uninstall as a template and reinstall as a widget.  Seriously.  That'll fix everything, they say.  Not only does it NOT fix everything (and sometimes creates new problems), but it seems akin to just kicking the TV in the hopes that it'll stop fritzing out.
  • The final straw occurred when I realized that Intense Debate was regularly eating all comments made directly through google readers instead of through the website.  I decided to switch to a template to fix the problem, but then that of course deleted all the links to my comments from the homepage.  Intense Debate support told me that the problem related to the amount of info on my home page, despite the fact that none of this was a problem mere moments before; no matter whether I used a widget or a template (and no matter how few entries I displayed on the home page), the problem would not be repaired.  Tech support had no solution except to live with it.
  • In fact, tech support blamed the problem on GOOGLE, saying that some of GOOGLE'S code was interfering with INTENSE DEBATE'S code.  Honestly guys, Google can do whatever the hell they want --- they're GOOGLE.  YOU are the peripheral and it's YOUR job to ADAPT your stuff to fit whatever Google is doing.  I was shocked by their attitude; it's no surprise there are no broader solutions to the glitches I was experiencing when this outlook (arrogance?) is at the core of matters.
You'll notice that as of about 3pm on Friday, I switched to Disqus.  I'm not sure if things will be better with this system, as we're only 8 hours into its use and Intense Debate didn't really start presenting problems until a few weeks ago.  Disqus shares the features of Intense Debate that were important to me---namely, threaded responses and email notification of replies (along with replies by email and email moderation).  It also allows logins through facebook and twitter, as does Intense Debate.  Time will tell whether people have issues posting from their feed readers; however, Disqus had an easy-to-find comment RSS link to add to the feeds that I suspect will solve the problem before it develops.

The Disqus installation went smoothly, and I was able to import all my old Intense Debate and Blogger comments into Disqus form (although the threaded replies did not transfer over).  One important distinction I noticed already:  I initially experienced trouble uploading comments from Blogger into Disqus.  I emailed tech support and received two automated responses (which told me to change a setting that the system could see I needed to change) and one human response.

Although I was more impressed with the depth of personal attention I received with Intense Debate support, the human response from Disqus sort of epitomizes what I hope will be the main difference between the two platforms.  Disqus explained that there was a larger issue with blogger that was preventing the comments from importing, and that Disqus was working with Blogger/Google to fix the situation.  Note that Disqus did not expect Google to accommodate them---instead, they worked with Google's coders to figure out what was going on so they could make the software work together.

That's the way it should be.

I'll come back and update this post for posterity once we've had some time to test out the system.  In the meantime, I'd love your feedback on Disqus.  The whole reason I wanted a new commenting system was to enhance your experience.  Do you like the Disqus layout?  Are you having any trouble posting or viewing comments?  Please weigh in!

For further reading:
Tammy Hart Designs: preferring ID
Learn to Duck: preferring Disqus and noting their ability to innovate and willingness to work in suggestions for product updates (compelling).  The article also brings out an important point that Disqus has made many important changes in the last year or two and improved, while ID "languished".  This is important to keep in mind when reading older comparisons of the two products.
Inquisitr: preferring ID.  Note that it was written in 2008, and I'm inclined to chalk up some of the issues with Disqus to an older interface...but again, I have little experience on the matter so far.
Less Annoying Software: This is a 2010 article and it recommends Intense Debate.  Interesting that the reason it recommends the plug in is the same reason I removed it: they ran into bugs that prevented comments from posting and were not satisfied with the customer service.

Edit: I received an email from Intense Debate support in response to the email chain we had going yesterday to figure out why the comments made through feedburner were not posting.   Read the email after the jump.

This is in response to my statement (which I also repeated here) that Intense Debate should adapt to Google and not the other way around.  It looks like Intense Debate is working on a big update that will hopefully solve some of the dealbreaking glitches I experienced with them.


Basically, the problem is that an IntenseDebate widget on Blogger can only rely on the URL to identify the post and therefore the comments. Widgets unfortunately load on a per-page basis, which leaves an IntenseDebate widget believing that and are two separate entities.

The template installation is more firmly rooted in the template and has access to more ways to identify the post and realize that and are in fact the same.

Ideally, the template installation is the most the compatible and complete way to install IntenseDebate (the widget installation is just for ease, really), but we are finding that the comment link is incompatible with a few themes under certain scenarios.

We are working on a major update to IntenseDebate and hope to have this fixed by then.

Kind regards,

James | Happiness Engineer | and IntenseDebate

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